written by: Jonathan Navas
posted in: 2011, Colombia

July 8, 2011

Nutritionist, Luis Mayer, checking-up children at the office

One of my main interests in studying theology is political theology.  Political theology, that is, the practical and the theoretical visions of what theology could be, is an attempt to reconcile theology with other academic disciplines and socio-political infrastructures.  In doing so, one is better apt to understand theology in the context of history, society, politics, economics, health, business, education, etc.  In short, the question of what it means to be a religious human being in the world is addressed more adequately.

The world we inhabit is neither secular nor religious.  Entities such as national governments, international institutions, multi-national corporations as well as the Church (or another religious institution) help form people’s conceptions on the world.  The world is both secular and religious.  It is a difficult concept to grasp as a theology student, though, since it is a dogmatic truth (being a Catholic!) that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.  I believe that anything different from this view is false.  But, as global citizens, Christians must understand that to live in the world, participation in civic events, the local and global economy, national politics, as well as the Eucharist, is not only necessary, but inevitable.  Even non-religious persons must encounter religious language that pervades modern society, albeit many times negatively.

IRD’s work, and most developmental and/or humanitarian work, whether it is non-governmental, not-for-profit, or religious, is therefore a natural extension of the concern and respect one human ought to have for another (and his or her beliefs), labor, and history.  As social beings, our communication must be planted on fertile ground.  But, we can never forget the past: events such as genocides, slavery, civil wars, religious/racial/LGBT discrimination, terrorism, colonialism, etc.  These issues force us at all times to react positively or negatively.  Not to take into account any of these issues as religious concerns—let alone as human concerns—is to negate the existence of foolish hatred and gruesome injustices that still plague the world.  Not to take into account the existence of any of the aforementioned issues leaves one in fantasy.  A Christian is not immune to the harsh realities that face the world’s population.

My work in Colombia necessitates knowledge of history that has positively and negatively influenced the living situations of people’s lives.  In this regard, I am in no sense qualified for the work and analysis required in Florencia’s regional office.  But, after multiple conversations with IRD beneficiaries (on distribution days, institutional events, or house visits), I have a better idea of the deprivation, anguish, and hopelessness displacement causes.  Grasping the experience of being kidnapped to the jungle, separated from family, losing everything (homes, farms, jobs, money, education, etc.), and forced to live in unbearable conditions (as is common for displaced persons), is unfathomable.

Since my site of work for Contextual Education II is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, I expect my work with IRD has prepared me sufficiently to dialogue, work, and learn with the Latino immigrant population of Atlanta.  Immigrants come from somewhere.  Immigrants almost always leave their respective countries of origin due to domestic hardships (lack of income, education, health care, domestic violence, etc.), public matters (armed conflict, political exile, insecurity, etc.), psychological instability (fear, anxiety, no sense of belonging, trauma, etc.), and lack of religious freedom.  There are motives for peoples’ immigration, and they are not always negative (drugs, gangs, etc.).

A mother and child at UAO al Barrio in El Timi

So, as I look forward to my work at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, I wish to take into account the situations facing the difficult decision to immigrate.  Meanwhile, it is just as significant to understand the social, political, economic, and religious tendencies of afflicted persons and families unable to immigrate, since their situation is so deprived of resources.  Taking both populations into account for Contextual Education II—immigrant populations in the United States and afflicted populations in their respective countries of origin—by means of religion and theology, will be a descriptive exercise that hopefully indicates trends for why people immigrate, namely Latin Americans to the United States.  I encountered numerous displaced persons with dreams to go to the United States for a better life, but it is not that simple.  Why the United States?  Why immigrate?  Is it necessary for one to immigrate to the United States for a better life?

New Catholic church in El Timi

Working with grassroots organizations to promote social and community empowerment, like IRD, is an example how local entities can support strategies that promote brotherhood and sisterhood among afflicted persons so that immigration is not necessary.  The good life does not happen in the United States alone (if at all), it can occur anywhere, and should occur everywhere, but it requires more socially, politically, health-oriented, and religiously charged persons to bring about better livelihoods.  We must not leave this work to a single Church mission or a single non-governmental organization, we are all responsible for the damages humans have caused in the world, therefore we must all work together to attack the aforementioned issues that, although they may not affect us, nevertheless harm others.  Everyone must participate to overcome the fears and injustices that still plague our world.


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